07/03/2015

This is our time

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MANILA, PHILIPPINES – It’s a great day for America, there’s no doubt about it. For years, the LGBT community has been fighting for the most precious right to be recognized by the government and its fellow citizens that we love who we love, and that we want to solidify that love with the sanctity of marriage. I woke up the other morning and heard the news of the Supreme Court decision – that gay marriage, from this point on, will be recognized in all 50 states in the United States of America. Like all LGBT individuals in the country and our allies, I broke down into tears. We did it.

Growing up in the Philippines, which is known to be a faith-driven society, has been hard to say the least. I remember being young and knowing that I was different – that I was attracted to the same sex – and it would became my deepest darkest secret as time went on, knowing that my faith and my country would not approve. I was raised in a Catholic household. We prayed the Rosary as a family, attended church on Sundays and attended Catholic school. A Catholic education was necessity, a precedent set by my family by past generations for the future generations. Catholicism was all that I knew, yet I knew that those would not approve my lifestyle where the people I was closest too. I found myself at a crossroads at an early age – to be who I really was or deny those desires for the sake of those around me – and my Church. My identity and faith were constantly tested. I’ve had countless discussions on what it was like to be a lesbian Catholic, knowing that my own church would not condone who I am and would refuse to allow me to marry who I love. Yet, I still prayed. I prayed for guidance. I prayed for acceptance. But most importantly, I prayed for love.

I moved to the United States at the age of 13 and have been living here ever since. I thought that I had escaped the invisible stigma and guilt I had allowed myself to suffer, but it followed me, as I grew older. Even in America, I heard the words “lesbian,” “dyke,” and “fag” being used in normal conversation, conversations that weren’t usually positive ones. It was painful, to say the least, and knowing that there were still people out there who hated those who were different than them scared me more than I could handle. It wasn’t until I met a girl – who was amazing to say the least – who swept me off my feet and continued to do so for four years. We both attended the same Catholic high school in Orange County, California and were inseparable during our time there. I knew that my feelings for her were more than friendship, and though I knew she felt the same way, we thought it best to keep our relationship a secret because of the possible consequences our school, our parents and in a way, God would put upon us. I forced myself to play the part of normal heterosexual Catholic schoolgirl: flirt with boys (in Catholic-approved ways, of course), attend dances with dates, and cheer on our favorite jocks at football games. I feared that if I didn’t play the part, I would have to be sanctioned to psychological counseling or worse, expulsion.

Toward the end of my high school career, I just couldn’t play the part anymore. It killed me to know that I couldn’t even tell my girlfriend that I loved her in public, or that I couldn’t hold her hand or give her a kiss. My secret relationship was eating me up and I believed that it wasn’t fair for my girlfriend and I to not be a “normal” couple like other kids our age, because society labeled us as “abnormal.” I felt hopeless, unable to turn to my parents, friends, or even God for that matter. It hurt me to know that even our creator wouldn’t even acknowledge my love for another woman. My confusion and self-distain caused me to make an attempt on my own life because even if I fell in love and found happiness with a woman, it would still not be recognized in the eyes my countrymen (both American and Filipino), my God, and my family. The right to love and be loved, no matter who or what you are, is a blessing that so many people take for granted.

I moved to New York a few years later to attend film school at New York University. My eyes were opened and I experienced a new kind of liberal mindset that I felt like I needed my entire life. No one cared if I was gay and it was the first time in my life I felt like I could be myself. I was introduced to countless gay couples that introduced themselves as “boyfriend and boyfriend” or “girlfriend and girlfriend” and for some strange reason – it brought warmth to my heart. During my time at NYU, I put faith and religion on the backburner indefinitely because I truly believed that religion and my LGBT lifestyle could not co-exist. I couldn’t be more wrong. As individuals, we should not have to fear what others think because God loves us. He loves all of us.

Being a Catholic in the LGBT community undoubtedly raised some eyebrows while I was in college, but so what? I have faith. I pray to God and I know he is listening. I believe that God listens to everyone – gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender – anyone. And I learned from the guidance of my family (after I came out, of course) that all that matters is that you continue on in life and try to be the best person you were yesterday. God urges us to be kind to one another and no one is exempt from that rule. If everyone lived by those rules, the world would be a better place. Don’t you think so?

So to all the Americans, I say congratulations to you. Congratulations for winning the fight we have been fighting for as long as we can remember. Today is one for the history books and a day of celebration. A day where love conquers all and where dreams finally come true. To those in the LGBT community who have been afraid of the world because of the adversity they face, this is your day. Fall in love. And fall hard. Because this is our time.

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